Your Idea of Success Should be Your Own

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I work in a law firm with a lot of older women, and sometimes, like a Mom would to a daughter, these women give me advice. By “older,” I mean their Baby Boomer names – Patty, Dawna, Laurie – dot the firm phone list. A lot of them used to come home from discos smelling like smoke because smoking inside was still kosher back then. An Elvis tattoo travels up Kathy’s bicep. Irene watches church via her TV on week nights. Ann releases a string of epithets directed at various documents and document programs on a hourly basis. Some days, there are screaming matches over scanning etiquette. There are ten-minute-long conversations carried along in whispers about where a document should be saved. “She saved it in DE, when it should be in PL…” There’s a lot of estrogen floating around. Or maybe a little less than there is at the offices of Twitter and Snapchat, because when it is, one day, unexpectedly that time of the month, I have a pretty hard time finding someone who hasn’t already been through the Change of Life from whom to borrow a tampon.

Re: the advice these women give me, it ranges from men I should go out with (a friend of someone’s son who looks like Paul Newman and narrowly missed surfing professionally – “The fin technology just isn’t right on this one…” he says as he shows me a board, one of many, in the basement under the house next to a spider that’s the size of a quarter), to books I should read, to what I should do with my career. On this last issue, these women and I do the same work. And yet, as I am copying a CD for Sandy with her looking on like I am creating an atom bomb, she says: “You have got to get out of here. This place is bullshit,” with urgency and in a whisper. As if Voldemort himself is hiding around the corner, covertly scooping spoonfuls of my soul away.

It’s famously been said that the best way to get approval is to not need it. And as you go through life, your idea of success should be your own. This is easer said than done, I think – to protect your idea of your own success the way your ribs protect your heart. But it’s also dangerous to want things only because other people want them. Or to want things because you are more committed to the idea of it, than you are to what it would mean for you. And I think maybe being an adult is pushing your stomach a little to the right, your lungs a little to the left, and making room inside yourself for your failures, as well as your successes. To hold in your mind a more complete picture of what and who you will be in the future  – one that has dirty corners and gross retainers in a drawer somewhere. And then, with that information in tow, you stand up, dust off your bum, and try again. You go onward and forward to the next effort. To the next Big Fail.

As I plan a trip to Croatia, nurse my hangovers, and date all sorts of men, I can’t help but notice I haven’t written much lately. I have been pretty good at being present and grateful. When I have opened the window, I have seen a world pulsing with activity. I have felt a spark of the divine in the watery blue eyes and smile of the old Italian man in front of the green tarp near the market. In the song of all the sounds of the morning – the garbage truck, the church bells ringing the time, and the planes landing outside my window. Maybe writers oscillate like this, they write and then they don’t, and I hope this is me.

When you’re 20, you think life ends at 30. And when you’re 16, you often have these grand, overinflated ideas of the person you will be: “I used to tell my Dad I was going to be a pro surfer and buy a house better and bigger than his, and he basically told me to wake up, and that I would never be able to afford a house in PB. He was right.” And the reality of life is that sometimes it doesn’t turn out how you think it will. And the people who bitterly hold onto the dreams of what once was, or what could have been, are a lot less happy than those who have accepted that they are far from perfect. The ones who have accepted that their stories will be peppered with both successes and failures are more mature, happy people. And I would like to be a part of that group.

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